American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and JetBlue have joined United Airlines in mandating staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as the Biden administration increases pressure on major U.S. carriers.
The airlines assist the government with special flights, freight carrying, and other services. According to the corporations, this qualifies them as government contractors and puts them subject to President Joe Biden’s order for contractors to require staff to be vaccinated.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said late Friday that the carrier is still working out the details, but “it is obvious that team members who choose to remain unvaccinated will not be able to work at American Airlines.”
American Airlines pilot union reportedly calculated that 4,200 — or 30% — of the airline’s pilots are not immunized.
The White House is putting pressure on airline CEOs to require vaccines.
Earlier, according to three persons familiar with the matter, White House coronavirus adviser Jeffrey Zients discussed vaccine regulations with the CEOs of American, Delta Air Lines, and Southwest Airlines. Because the calls were private, they talked on the condition of anonymity.
Airlines are huge enterprises subject to Biden’s sweeping directive requiring companies with more than 100 employees to have staff vaccinated or tested for the virus on a weekly basis.
They are, however, federal contractors who face a Dec. 8 deadline to enforce vaccine regulations – without the choice of testing.
Because they would be considered federal contractors, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways announced Friday that they will need staff to be vaccinated as early as December 8.
“This means employees will no longer be able to opt-out of regular testing and masking in lieu of receiving the vaccine,” Alaska Airlines stated in a staff memo.
Delta stated that the company was still reviewing Biden’s request. The airline has already stated that it will demand vaccination or weekly testing of all staff and will levy fees on those who are not vaccinated. This would satisfy the Biden test for large businesses, but not the tighter restrictions for government contractors.
United Airlines was among the first and most adamant in requiring vaccinations. United announced on Thursday that 320 of its 67,000 U.S. employees face termination for failing to get vaccinated or request a medical or religious exemption by a deadline earlier this week.
Employees may request medical or religious exemptions.
Employees may request exemptions from immunizations on medical or religious grounds. United is putting the majority of those employees on unpaid leave until COVID-19 rates drop.
Southwest said it is looking into Biden’s order. Both Southwest and American are under pressure from their pilot groups not to enforce vaccinations and instead to provide alternatives, including testing.
Reuters first reported on the White House adviser’s calls with airline CEOs.
At least two members of Congress, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., have proposed requiring domestic airline passengers to be vaccinated or produce documentation of a negative COVID-19 test before flying.
For domestic flights, Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease specialist, supports that strategy, and travelers entering the country must submit a negative test before boarding. The Biden administration has not ruled out the concept, which airlines fiercely oppose.